Ben Hammersley on the future of the internet

Yesterday I attended a talk in Derry/Londonderry organised by the British Council. The speaker was Ben Hammersley, a renowned tech journalist with an epic moustache, who shared his profound views on the future of the internet.

Basically Hammersley believes that the internet enables a new form of shared culture. Where previously people’s culture was determined primarily by geography – we are here and they are here, so we have our own language and customs and culture and they have theirs – now increasingly culture is determined by people’s shared interests and beliefs, regardless of where they are on the planet.

And this shift in people’s cultural identity is something the older generation – say anyone born before 1969 – is unable to understand, because the old generation still thinks in hierarchies: organisational pyramids and class systems. And the new generation – anyone born after 1979 – thinks in networks: peer to peer connections without hierarchies.

This creates a fundamental disconnect between the older generation, who tend to make up the vast majority of today’s ruling class, and the new generation, which is doing all kinds of cool new stuff that affect all our daily lives.

Old hierarchical industries are being destroyed by the internet, and different networked systems are left behind in its wake. The old ruling class is fighting against this, but it’s a futile struggle. In the end the new digital generation doesn’t need anyone’s permission to build cool new systems that defy established practices. They just get on with things, and the ruling elite is left trying to catch up – and usually fails miserably at it.

The inbetween generation, roughly those born between 1969 and 1979, are the ones that should be functioning as the translators between these two groups. As part of this generation (and I am definitely part of it) we speak both languages and can understand both hierarchical forms of thinking and networked frames of mind.

Thus it’s our responsibility – duty even – to mediate between the ruling class, which won’t be going away any time soon thanks to the longevity enabled by modern medicine, and the new digital generation that is redefining culture and society through networked technologies.

Explain, not complain, was Hammersley’s final motto of the evening. Instead of complaining that our managers and politicians just ‘don’t get it’, we should explain it to them and bring them along for the ride.

Because while we don’t need the older generation to build this new networked hierarchy-less society, they can still make things very hard for us. Unless we win them over.